FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 25, 2008) – The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH), the Whitley County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are interested in learning more about the impact of recent illness-related school closings on the families and communities involved.
Representatives of DPH, the Whitley County Health Department and the CDC will begin contacting some families in the Whitley County area by telephone on Wednesday as part of an investigation into potential changes in community dynamics that may occur when schools are closed due to high illness-related absenteeism rates. The study comes on the heels of numerous school closures in southeastern Kentucky this month.
“Participation in this survey is very important in helping us learn more about how short-term school closures impact Kentucky communities, so that we can understand better how to prepare for potential scenarios that might involve schools being closed for much longer periods.” said William Hacker, M.D., the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ acting undersecretary for health and DPH commissioner. Such scenarios might include infectious disease outbreaks like a severe influenza pandemic.
All of Whitley County’s three school districts closed in February. Corbin Independent Schools experienced greater than 15 percent absenteeism and closed for five days; Whitley County Schools closed for four days; and Williamsburg Independent Schools closed for two days. On Feb. 7, DPH reported that statewide influenza activity was widespread, based on surveillance activities.
The study is being conducted to better understand the impact of school closures related to illness, such as last-minute child-care arrangements for those children who would normally be in school, and possible loss of work and pay by parents who may need to stay home to look after their children.
DPH, CDC and Whitley County staff are interested in learning more about parents’ views on the spread of communicable diseases and how to decrease the spread of illness. Researchers also will be trying to determine whether children were exposed to gatherings of people despite school closures, in hopes of improving public health’s response to longer-term outbreaks and to help inform pandemic flu preparedness efforts.